The many functions of a
Certainly, from a learner's point of view, it would seem that every language has a small, annoying word which has so many possible functions. In Albanian (yes, I did Albanian for a while, I've always like Albania though I've not yet been there) this happens to be të, which can be any of the following:
- a short form of a second person pronoun in the dative or accusative
- a short form of a third person pronoun in the dative or accusative - meaning that the short form "for him" and "for you" are identical
- a particle which forms the conjunctive
- a particle which forms the future conditional
- a particle which forms the jussive (i.e. it helps form a kind of imperative)
- a particle needed for some infinitive constructions
- the definite article before a noun
Once you get into it, it's not too bad but can still be a head-scratcher at times, trying to figure out what a you're looking at.
The vocative particle
This a [ə] is placed in front of a noun or proper noun when directly addressing a thing or person. It lenites and forces the noun or proper noun into the vocative case, if the noun has a vocative case. English doesn't have a vocative case. The closest English equivalent is "oh!", but the Gaelic vocative particle doesn't sound as corny when you use it, it's just, well, normal.
Before a vowel or fh-, the a disappears.
|Seumas [ʃeːməs] »
|a Sheumais! [ə heːmɪʃ]
|fir [firʲ] »
|Mórag [moːrag] »
|a Mhórag! [ə voːrag]
The leniting article
Technically, this is not just a but a' [ə], with an apostrophe, but I included it, nonetheless. This leniting article takes the form a' and it lenites the following word. It appears before feminine singular nouns in the nominative and before masculine singular AND feminine singular nouns in the prepositional case, before b c g m p.
|air a' bhalach
|on the boy
The participle-forming particle
Similarly, this a also takes an apostrophe, a' [ə], but I've included it because as the leniting article, in spoken Gaelic, it also comes out as [ə]. This isn't Borge's spoken punctuation you know :)
It is the reduced form of ag and appears before anything that is not a vowel and not r. It appears before b c d f g l m n p s t, for example:
|tha mi a' bualadh
|I am hitting
|tha mi a' lagachadh
|I am weakening
The masculine possessive pronoun
No apostrophe this time, just a [ə], and it lenites everything.
|a mhàthair [N » n]
The feminine possessive pronoun
This is the reduced form of a h-, which you get before feminine nouns beginning with vowels. The only other difference from the masculine possessive pronoun is that this one doesn't lenite the noun. It's also pronounced [ə]:
|a nathair [N » N]
The infinitive particle
Please see Habemus infinitivum necne for a full exposé on what's with the infinitive in Gaelic. Here, I'm just giving a couple of brief examples. Also pronounced [ə], it appears in certain types of sentences before a verbal noun and it prompts lenition:
|Bu toigh leam cù a cheannach
|I would like to buy a dog
|Tha mi airson ubhal a ròstadh [R » r]
|I intend to roast an apple
The counting particle
The reduced form of a h-[ə h] appears before numbers up to twenty, starting with a consonant. It's used when counting numbers but not objects.
The reduced form of the preposition do
The preposition do often reduces to just a [ə]. It lenites consonants, and before vowels and fh it gets reduplicated as do dh' and also a dh'. And yes, it overlaps, almost completely, with de. In many dialects, even the full forms do and de are pronounced [də].
|thoir a Mhurchadh e
|give it to Murdo!
|theirig a Mhiùghalaigh
|go to Mingulay!
It regularly appears across all dialects before placenames i.e. before placenames, the full form do is very rare:
|thalla a dh'Inbhir Nis
|away with you to Inverness!
|thig a Bharraigh
|come to Barra!
The reduced form of the preposition de
The preposition de often reduces to just a [ə]. It lenites consonants, and before vowels and fh it gets reduplicated as de dh' and also a dh'. And yes, it overlaps with do, almost completely. In many dialects, even the full forms do and de are pronounced [də].
|sguir a sheinn
|dèan truinnsear a chlach
|make a plate from stone!
The relative particle
The relative particle a [ə] marks a relative clause. That's it really...
|cuin a sheinneas tusa?
|when will you sing?
|an tè a thuit
|the woman who fell
The first part of various adverbs
Which is sadly relevant because of some GOC nonense. For some arcane reason, they took offence to the hyphen in an-seo, an-sin, and an-siud and re-spelled them as an seo, an sin and an siud. As if Gaelic didn't have enough words that are written an... Anyway, this means that people who have a tendency to write everything exactly as they say it, and who follow GOC a bit too religiously, sometimes reduce the an to a [ə]:
|an seo [əˈʃɔ]
|a seo [əˈʃɔ]
|an sin [əˈʃin]
|a sin [əˈʃin]
|an siud [əˈʃid]
|a siud [əˈʃid]
Yes, the n is almost always deleted in spoken Gaelic. If you pronounced it very carefully, it would be [əNʲˈʃɔ].
The letter a
To confuse matters, when a represents just the letter a, this is mostly read the English way i.e. "ay" even though Gaelic has very old indigenous names for the letters. But there are a few people who still know the old names of the letters.
|a, b, c
|[ɛj] [biː] [siː]
|a, b, c
|ailm, beith, coll
A dialectal form of e
In writing, in some dialects, people use a where you'd expect e, in order to represent the regional pronunciation of it, [a].
|chonaic sinn a
|[xɔNɪgʲ ʃiNʲː a]
|chualaig a caile
|[xuaLɪgʲ a kalə]
The interrogative particle
The reduced form of an [ən], appears only before bheil:
|a bheil thu tinn?
|are you ill?
This comes out as a clear [a]. Nothing much else to say about it really.
|A, sin agad e
|Ah, there you go
The preposition á
Of course, this has an acute - well, a grave these days - but added just for the sake of completeness. In this instance only, the acute/grave on á does not make it a long vowel. The acute is just there to distinguish it from other particles written a which are pronounced [ə], whereas á has a clear, short [a].
|Thàinig mi á Peairt
|I came from Perth
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